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Defence Contracts (North-East)

12. Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): How many civilian jobs in the north-east of England he has (a) created and (b) safeguarded by the awarding of defence contracts since the completion of the defence review. [156938]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): Approximately 350,000 jobs are dependent on defence expenditure and equipment exports. More than 60,000 new contracts are placed each year and the Ministry of Defence does not record the number of jobs created or safeguarded as a result of each individual procurement decision. As my hon. Friend will know, in March of this year the Ministry of Defence confirmed a contract worth £250 million with Vickers Defence Systems for the supply of 66 specialist Challenger-based engineer tanks. That will help to sustain all 500 jobs at its Newcastle plant and up to another 1,000 jobs among UK sub-contractors.

Mr. Cousins: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts. I also congratulate the Minister for Defence Procurement on her unfailing helpfulness and courtesy to north-east Members of Parliament when they pursue these issues. However, my hon. Friend will be aware of the very difficult situation facing shipbuilding workers inthe north-east, which is part of the fallout resulting from the difficulties of the Cammell Laird group. Is he also

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aware that, whereas one in 10 members of the military forces in the United Kingdom is recruited from the north-east, only one in 200 of civilian MOD employees is located there? Is my hon. Friend giving his attention to these matters, and will he offer any prospects for assistance?

Dr. Moonie: I am well aware that areas such as the north-west and north-east, which supply the largest percentage of our recruits in England, suffer when it comes to the deployment of Ministry of Defence jobs. It is our policy where possible to devolve jobs away from the south-east to other regions, and I assure my hon. Friend that I will do all that I can to ensure that that happens.

We are also well aware of the problems that Cammell Laird is experiencing. We support the receiver's aim for RFA Argus to be completed at Birkenhead, and have agreed on a system whereby that can be done. We are also in discussions with the receiver on the best options for the company's contract for work on RFA Fort George, which is due to arrive at the yard on the other side--rather than the north-east--on 7 May. It is, however, too early to speculate on the outcome.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing all we can to support our colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry, and their efforts to find a solution to the problems of Cammell Laird.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): What the Minister did not say about Cammell Laird is that the company had hoped for a considerable amount of work in connection with ro-ro ferries--work that the Government have placed in Germany. Is that not a betrayal of hundreds of workers in the north-west and north-east of England?

Dr. Moonie: As the hon. Gentleman well knows,the contract for the ro-ro ferries encompasses their management and service over their lifetime, as well as their construction, which represents a very small part of the total value of the contract. It has been let to Weir, the British company that will control it.

We spent a great deal of time and effort on the contract. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the yards are not subsidised. We sought best value for money throughout, and we believe that as a consequence we achieved the best solution.

Sierra Leone

13. Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): If he will make a statement on the contributions of British forces to security and training in Sierra Leone. [156939]

17. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): If he will make a statement on the armed forces' deployment in Sierra Leone. [156944]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): British troops are in Sierra Leone to assist the democratically elected Government to establish effective and accountable armed forces. We have between 550 and 600 troops on the ground in Sierra Leone at any time. They constitute the United Kingdom's contribution to the international military advisory and training team, soldiers

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providing the short-term training teams, and a brigade headquarters. The short-term training team commitment has recently been taken on by 2 Battalion The Light Infantry, which succeeds 2 Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles. As I announced in January, we will continue to provide the training teams at least until September this year.

In January we deployed a field surgical team to cover the gap in medical facilities caused by the roulement of the UN medical facilities.

Mr. Gapes: Will my hon. Friend send a message of support from the House to our soldiers and other personnel, whom I have seen doing an excellent job in Sierra Leone?

How is progress being made towards the establishment of the international military advisory training team with the Canadians and others? What proposals have the Government for the strengthening of the Sierra Leone Government's control over its territory, enabling that Government to take more and more territory away from the Revolutionary United Front and the appalling activities of those terrorist thugs?

Mr. Spellar: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the excellent job being done. It is a great advantage that a number of Members from all parts of the House have been able to visit Sierra Leone, and to see that work being undertaken. It has also given considerable encouragement to the troops.

A number of countries are already participating in the IMATT, and, again, excellent work is being undertaken for the training of the Sierra Leone army. We have been strengthening the headquarters of UNAMSIL--the United Nations mission to Sierra Leone--so that it, and the Sierra Leone army, can establish normality in the country.

Mr. Mackinlay: How many United Kingdom forces personnel, including our special forces--police, security and intelligence services--have been killed during their deployment in Sierra Leone, or as a consequence of that deployment?

Mr. Spellar: According to my recollection, one member of the Paratroop Regiment was killed in an extremely successful operation to rescue some of our forces--an operation that was widely remarked on not just in the House, but across the world.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Minister said that the short-term training commitment would last until at least September this year. When does he expect the Sierra Leone Government to be able to achieve normality in that country, which I presume means the defeat of the RUF? Will he confirm that it is only then that our troops will be able to come home?

Mr. Spellar: Our forces are there primarily in the training role. Obviously, it will be a matter of assessing the capability of the Sierra Leonean Army and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies, success on the ground. It is a little difficult to predict a time scale on that.

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Defence Policy Priorities

15. Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): What representations he has received on his amendments to defence policy priorities since the strategic defence review; and if he will make a statement. [156942]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): There have been no fundamental changes in the Government's defence policy priorities since the strategic defence review was published in July 1998. However, the Government recognise the need to adapt to a changing world. That is why, for example, we recently updated our strategic analysis and published the results in two publications: "Defence Policy 2001" and "The Future Strategic Context for Defence."

I have had discussions concerning the strategic defence review and our defence policy priorities with a wide range of people and received and responded to many representations on those defence policies.

Mrs. Gilroy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Given its significant potential contribution, what steps have the Government taken to develop their policy of multinational defence co-operation? In particular, does my right hon. Friend see any further scope for the development of co-operation between the Royal Navy and the navies of allied countries?

Mr. Hoon: Clearly, there is strong potential for further effective co-operation between the Royal Navy and the navies of other countries. We could, for example, build on the success of the French ship attachments to the United Kingdom and Royal Navy involvement in French exercises--building on work set out by the last Conservative Secretary of State for Defence. We can improve the interoperability of our Navy further through joint exercises. Opportunities are provided by membership of the five powers defence arrangement for regular joint exercises and training with Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. We are also seeking to develop closer co-operation on amphibious issues with France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will the Secretary of State confirm that one of the SDR priorities was to recruit all three services up to strength and to provide 3,000 extra men for the Army? Will he further confirm that every category of regular personnel except naval officers lost numbers during the previous fiscal year; that premature voluntary release is at a 10-year high; that medical downgrading is at almost its historic peacetime high; that the addresses of over a third of the regular reserve have been lost; that officer recruiting for the Territorial Army has collapsed; and that the royal naval reserve is also losing numbers fast? It is time that the Secretary of State thought again a little about his personnel policy options.

Mr. Hoon: What I can confirm is that the Government remain committed to the force levels set out in the strategic defence review, but that, in a strong economy, we recognise that retention is an issue with which we have to deal. We are putting considerable administrative effort into improving retention levels. Notwithstanding the strong economy, recruitment is proceeding satisfactorily and many young people see the armed forces as an

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attractive way of life, particularly given the activities in which the armed forces are currently engaged. There is a matching up between the advertisements and the reality of life in service.

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